A new drug to prevent stroke in patients with the heart rhythm condition non-valvular atrial fibrillation is available in the UK from today with the launch of Daiichi Sankyo’s bloodthinner Lixiana across the country.

Lixiana (edoxaban) is a once-daily selective factor Xa-inhibitor which, in clinical trials, was shown work as well veteran anticoagulant warfarin but with a superior safety profile, significantly reducing the risk of major bleeds (2.75% versus 3.43% per year, respectively, in the stroke prevention cohort).

Following a European approval earlier this year, the drug, which costs £2.10 per tablet, can now be used in the UK to protect NVAF patients from a recurrence if they have suffered from blood clots in the limbs and lungs (venous thromboembolism).

In England alone 835,000 people have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, but it is thought that up to a further 250,000 remain undetected who, without treatment, are at a five-fold increased risk of suffering from a stroke than those without the condition.

Worryingly, a survey carried out by Daiichi of 200 AF patients found that of those having symptoms, the average delay before seeking medical help was two years, while 14% waited as long as five years or longer before seeing a doctor.

The main reasons for the delay was that patients did not know their symptoms - including irregular heartbeat, breathlessness and dizziness - were related to AF or serious enough for medical attention, highlighting the lack of awareness of the condition.